I'd appreciate help of native speakers. There's line in a poem:

Water and Gold

by Michael Burch

You came to me as rain breaks on the desert
when every flower springs to life at once,
but joy is an illusion to the expert:
the Bedouin has learned how not to want.

You came to me as riches to a miser
when all is gold, or so his heart believes,
until he dies much thinner and much wiser,
his gleaming bones hauled off by chortling thieves.

You gave your heart too soon, too dear, too vastly;
I could not take it in; it was too much.
I pledged to meet your price, but promised rashly.
I died of thirst, of your bright Midas touch.

I dreamed you gave me water of your lips,
then sealed my tomb with golden hieroglyphs.

Originally published by The Lyric

My understanding (and common sense, I believe) is that poor fellow's tomb was literally stripped to the bone of anything valuable, and only bones were left. My opponent says, no, it's bones that the thieves, being merry people, no doubt, took with themselves. Who's right? All dictionaries, including those that provide examples from literature and media, seem to prove I'm wrong, that something being hauled off means it was dragged, carried, etc. away.

closed as off-topic by FumbleFingers, Bradd Szonye, Matt E. Эллен, Kristina Lopez, choster Oct 10 '13 at 14:23

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  • 2
    Your oppoonent and the dictionaries are right. – Barrie England Oct 10 '13 at 12:08
  • As for why the thieves were chortling, I'd need you to provide more context to determine why they thought what they were doing was humorous. At any rate, to haul off means to carry something away. E.g., "You don't expect me to haul off a garage full of junk in one trip, do you?" – rhetorician Oct 10 '13 at 12:14
  • @Barrie England, rhetorician, mplungjan - Thanks. I was wrong, then. Should have stuck to literal meaning provided by dictionaries. The motives of poetry heroes (and thieves) better left unquestioned :-) – user2846289 Oct 10 '13 at 12:45

The thieves took the bones with them.

"Hauled off" implies that the thieves had a heavy load of pilfered items. "hauling" is a term common to vehicular transport, which implies a large quantity of good being moved.

Further, the poem implies that the formerly-rich-miser wasted away to such poverty that only his bones remained. In fact, the bones were 'gleaming' white because every iota of flesh had also been stripped from them [by animal and insects] along with the rest of the miser's riches.

Further, his poverty was impoverishment was so great that no protection was given to his grave, and jesting roamers could rob his grave of the bones without inhibiting their jokes - reinforcing that no solemn ground was afforded for the grave.


In detail :

The gleaming [surprising here, it suggest a faint or brief light] bones hauled off [surprising here, it suggests pulling or dragging forcibly - I would have understood for a dinosaur] by chortling [surprising here, I wonder what is especially funny - except if it was an enemy to the death, and much after] thieves.

Poets are creators, may indulge themselves in some fantasy from time to time, but is it not beyond the pale ?

  • Apparently the full text has been given a posteriori, when I was writing my answer ; I am not much enlightened. – ex-user2728 Oct 10 '13 at 12:56

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